Privilege Checking

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Michael Rectenwald:

"Self-criticism and privilege-checking are the vestiges of “autocritique” and “struggle sessions,” purification methods of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76). In the late 1960s, as word from the communist revival spread to the West through the student and feminist movements of Europe—especially France, the birthplace of postmodern theory—they became part of the Western left’s vocabulary and toolkit. In struggle ses­sions, the guilty party—accused of selfishness, ignorance, and the embrace of bourgeois ideology—was pilloried with verbal and often physical assaults by her comrades, until she broke down and confessed her characterological and ideological flaws. Today, the confessions involve privilege or the unearned advantage enjoyed by members of a dominant group based on appearance. Usually on demand, checking one’s privilege means to acknowledge unearned advantage and to atone for it publicly. Meanwhile, in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, autocritique began with the guilty party, who subjected herself to brutal verbal self-inspection and denigration before the jury of her comrades. Autocritique and struggle sessions could lead to imprisonment or death as the comrade was often found to be insufficiently pure. In self-criticism (self-crit) and “callout” routines, soft forms of autocritique and struggle sessions became prevalent on the Internet sometime after 2009. They then infiltrated universities and other social spaces." (